NBA Power Rankings - post-free agency edition
Now, that the free agency dust has, for the most part, settled, it's time to take stock of the NBA.
Have the Los Angeles Clippers actually vaulted ahead of their cross-town rivals with their acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and trade for Paul George?
What about the East? Are the Philadelphia 76ers now the team to beat after poaching Al Horford from the Celtics? Where did Kyrie Irving's relocation to Brooklyn move the Nets in the NBA hierarchy? Will the reboot in Boston with Kemba and the Kids move the needle for the Celtics?
Those answers and more in our post-free agency edition of the NBA Power Rankings:
30. Phoenix Suns
No one has any idea what the Suns are doing. Heck, no one is certain the Suns know what they’re doing. There’s no shortage of head-scratching summer moves, including a splurge on Ricky Rubio and a trade for Aron Baynes. Then again, the Suns wouldn’t be in this mess if they would stop routinely whiffing on draft picks.
29. Memphis Grizzlies
Jaren Jackson Jr.! Ja Morant! The Grizzlies have some interesting young pieces but all that matters to Celtics fans is that they should still be pretty bad, meaning the future pick that Boston is owed — top-six protected this year — will likely become an unprotected first-round pick in 2021. That might just be the centerpiece in any trade to acquire more impact talent down the road.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
One year after using the Nets pick they obtained from the Celtics in the Isaiah Thomas/Kyrie Irving swap to draft point guard Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers snatched another point guard in Darius Garland with the fifth pick in last month’s draft. Can that combo work together? The Cavs are about to find out. But even if it doesn’t work, another trip to the high lottery probably wouldn’t be the worst thing.
27. Washington Wizards
We’re not going to root against any team with Isaiah Thomas in the starting point guard role. A motivated Thomas paired with Bradley Beal has some potential but the Wizards and the bloated John Wall contract that’s weighing them down are probably not morphing into contenders.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder
Good news: The Thunder got an absurd haul from the Clippers in the Paul George trade, one that will pay dividends deep into the next decade. The bad news? There’s not a terribly ideal path of trying to retool on the fly behind Russell Westbrook and trading his bloated contract won’t exactly add to the treasure trove of draft assets if OKC embraces a slower rebuild. The Thunder have some tough decisions on the path forward but those pain points are softened by the picks that might allow them to get in the conversation with any big name that comes on the market.
25. New York Knicks
The Knicks were dreaming of a main course of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Zion Williamson. They emerged with a sampler platter featuring Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, and Bobby Portis. They might add Marcus Morris, too, which would help but we’re just not certain it’s going to alleviate the angst of Knicks fans, who must sell themselves on the idea that short-term deals will allow New York to pounce further down the road. Until then, they remain a punchline.
24. Atlanta Hawks
OK, maybe we're taking crazy pills but the Hawks are a fringe playoff team in a top-heavy East, right? Trae Young finished his rookie year strong, John Collins drew All-Star consideration, and now they’ve added veterans like Evan Turner and Vince Carter to nurture the young core. A lot of things have to break right for Atlanta but even if their youngsters get a taste of being a bit more competitive, it will help this team in the long run.
23. Charlotte Hornets
We gave Charlotte 23 in honor of Michael Jordan. The man who decided he didn’t want to give Kemba Walker the supermax but rebounded by throwing $58 million at Terry Rozier. We actually think Rozier will do well in a starting role on a team with low expectations — though he’ll find the talent around him not nearly as robust as what he had in those spot starts in Boston — but the Hornets still don’t have a path back to contention and bottoming out seemed like the better path.
22. Chicago Bulls
Did the Bulls solve their point guard problems by landing Coby White at No. 7 in last month’s draft? If Chicago stays healthy, they might actually be fairly competitive. Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. is a nice young tandem up front and Zach Lavine can further justify Chicago’s big splurge. Thaddeus Young brings a much-needed veteran presence who can steer them back to respectability.
21. Detroit Pistons
Derrick Rose is a very intriguing addition, particularly at the price point. He turned back the clock at times last season in Minnesota before his season ended in late March. Now he gets to toss lobs at Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond and maybe the Pistons can compete for a playoff spot, though their depth pieces don’t inspire confidence.
20. Orlando Magic
The Magic just love stocking up on big guys, using their midlevel to nab Al-Farouq Aminu while re-signing Nikola Vucevic to an overstocked frontcourt. It would certainly benefit Orlando if Markelle Fultz found his shattered shot and emerged as some sort of contributor next season. Alas, after a surprise surge to the playoffs last year, the Magic are doubling down on being competitive and building with their army of big wings.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves
Wait, wasn’t D’Angelo Russell supposed to end up in Minnesota? The Timberwolves were aggressive on draft night, moving up to nab Jarrett Culver, but Russell ended up in Golden State and the Timberwolves still have some work to do to put talent around Karl-Anthony Towns (who Celtics fans hope is the next star to get disgruntled and demand a trade).
18. Sacramento Kings
The Kings felt like one of the NBA’s biggest surprises last season and they had an intriguing offseason while adding depth pieces like Cory Joseph, Dewayne Dedmon, and Trevor Ariza. If Sacramento's younger players like De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley continue to emerge, there’s no shortage of potential here. Alas, the loaded West makes its a daunting quest to get over the hump and back in the playoffs.
17. Toronto Raptors
Unless Masai Ujiri can pull off another coup like the initial Kawhi Leonard trade, it feels like the Raptors are more likely to sell off veteran pieces — players like Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol — and figure out how to start building around Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. Siakam’s still talented enough that this thing won’t bottom out any time soon.
16. San Antonio Spurs
Landing Marcus Morris for midlevel money seemed like a home run for the Spurs but now comes word that Morris is considering reneging on the deal in order to sign with — wait, let me check my notes — the New York Knicks?! That tells you were the Spurs stand in the post-Kawhi era that free agents would rather steal James Dolan’s money. Morris makes some extra money and hits free agency again next summer but might have been a sneaky playoff squad with the Spurs, who still have wing depth after signing DeMarre Carroll and bringing back Rudy Gay this summer.
15. New Orleans Pelicans
Yes, the West is loaded. And yet it still doesn’t seem irrational to believe the Pelicans can muscle their way into a playoff berth. That’s a lot of pressure on No. 1 pick Zion Wiliamson to make an impact immediately but the Pelicans have veteran pieces like Jrue Holiday and newly acquired J.J. Redick. A lot has to break right but David Griffin has put his team in position to be competitive immediately — and stay there with all of those future Lakers picks.
14. Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler gives Miami a puncher’s chance in the East but we’re slotting the Heat in the top half of the league if only because it feels inevitable that Pat Riley will make a play for Russell Westbrook. It’d be fascinating to watch as Butler and Westbrook wrestle over who gets late-game shots but would also give Miami its own star duo in a league loading up on them.
13. Dallas Mavericks
It feels like the Mavericks whiffed a bit in their quest to add some impact talent alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. They had a pretty big wad of cap space but they never made a big splash despite rumbles about everyone from Al Horford to Danny Green. Dallas feels like a low seed at best until they can add some veteran talent beside their young stars.
12. Brooklyn Nets
There will be a honeymoon period for Kyrie Irving and, even with Kevin Durant rehabbing, it seems likely he’ll thrive devoid of the overwhelming expectations that weighed down last year’s Celtics squad. The Nets have plenty of young talent but emerging as true title contenders seems more likely once Durant is back.
11. Indiana Pacers
There’s a case to be made that Indy should be ahead of Boston despite the lopsided nature of last year’s playoff series. A healthy Victor Oladipo and the addition of Malcolm Brogdon, coupled with the development of that frontline of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner makes the Pacers a real threat in the East. They’ll miss Bojan Bogdanovic’s offense, however.
10. Boston Celtics
They’re still probably the third best team in the East but there are obvious question marks for these Celtics. Even if we assume Kemba Walker will thrive and negate much of the production lost in Kyrie Irving’s exit, the frontcourt is still a Tacko Fall-sized question mark. And that’s before we find out if Gordon Hayward can get back closer to his old form, or whether Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can make a leap. If Boston finds itself one player away from being a true contender, it has the assets to make an in-season move.
9. Golden State Warriors
Sleep on the Warriors at your own peril. Yes, the regular season could be ugly, at least by Golden State standards. Steph Curry has MVP potential with the offensive load on his shoulders, while Draymond Green never lacks for motivation. The D’Angelo Russell experiment should be fascinating to watch, at least as a stopgap until Thompson can return. The Warriors seem like a team that might stumble to the sixth seed then be in the West finals if they get healthy.
8. Portland Trail Blazers
Fresh off a trek to the West finals, the Blazers radically overhauled their depth pieces. Among the departed: Evan Turner, Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Enes Kanter, Seth Curry, and Jake Layman. Next season, Portland will surround the Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum combo with Kent Bazemore, Hassan Whiteside, Mario Hezonja, and Anthony Tolliver. Portland was able to hang on to Rodney Hood, too. The question is whether that’s enough to stay competitive in a beefed up west.
7. Utah Jazz
They didn’t make quite the big splashes of the teams in Hollywood but the Jazz made the sort of moves that make them an extremely intriguing team. Utah added Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanvoic without sacrificing core pieces. If Donovan Mitchell completes the leap to All-NBA-caliber superstar, the Jazz have the talent to compete with the L.A. teams.
6. Houston Rockets
For all the hype about a potential offseason makeover, it sure feels like the Rockets are simply going to run it back — and maybe that’s the right move in a more wide-open NBA with Golden State on the mend. In the absence of a Daryl Morey surprise blockbuster, the Rockets have plenty of skill and experience but the brutal West keeps conspiring against their grandest plans.
5. Denver Nuggets
With the rest of the league in an arms race for star talent, the Nuggets were content to sit back and hope that a combination of health and experience can thrust them closer to title contention. Denver traded for Oklahoma City’s Jerami Grant and they’ll hope that 2018 first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. can make an impact once healthy. But the Nuggets’ success ultimately hinges on the continued development of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Last year’s taste of the postseason should help, too.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers splurged to land Al Horford and there’s no shortage of benefits, not the least of which is prying away a key piece from a rival that’s absolutely owned them in recent seasons. Now Joel Embiid doesn’t have to joust with the player who defends him best on the playoff stage, and will instead share the floor with him. Tobias Harris should get more shots with the departures of Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick. So much of what Philadelphia accomplishes likely boils down to the progress of Ben Simmons.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers whiffed in their home run swing to land Kawhi and form a super team. But let’s not sleep on what they do have. If LeBron James can stiff arm Father Time and Anthony Davis reminds us he's of the NBA’s elite, then the Lakers are going to be a beast. And while they made a lot of head-scratching signings around James a year ago, they did better this time around, adding better complementary pieces like Avery Bradley, Danny Green, and DeMarcus Cousins. And Rajon Rondo returning for another year should help, too.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Yes, the Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon this summer and that’s no small departure. But Giannis is already the MVP and is still getting better. Milwaukee was able to retain Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez — and added another Lopez brother, too! They might not dominate the regular season the way they did a year ago but the Bucks will have even more playoff poise.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
In acquiring both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers have paired two top-10 players in the prime of their careers. If both stay healthy, this team is an absolute juggernaut because of the talent they were able to maintain. A defensive trio of Leonard, George, and Pat Beverley is absurd. Montrezl Harrell is only going to get better and Lou Williams is still doing Lou Williams things off the bench.